Discovery Museum Announces Retirement of CEO Neil Gordon

Gordon to step down effective 12/31/2023 after 14 years of impactful leadership

ACTON, MA – Discovery Museum’s Board of Directors has announced the retirement of its longtime chief executive officer Neil H. Gordon, who led the beloved 40-year-old institution through more than a decade of transformative growth, physical expansion, and tremendous advancement in the depth, breadth, and reach of playful learning experiences serving kids and families throughout Massachusetts.

“Throughout his 13 years as CEO, Neil put kids and their families first. They were his motivation in making access to Discovery Museum more equitable; re-developing the entire campus with a focus on accessibility; creating fun, interesting ways to inspire kids to be in and learn about our natural world; and setting an industry example by becoming the first children’s museum in the country to generate 100% of its electricity onsite,” said board president Harry Hollenberg. “He did all that and successfully steered the Museum through the initial years of the pandemic so well that 2022 was arguably the Museum’s most successful year yet. We are tremendously grateful for Neil’s service, his inspired vision, and the mark he will leave on Discovery Museum. Thanks to his powerful efforts, the Museum is in a position of strength and well-positioned for new leadership. Neil’s generosity in providing the Board with early notice of his plans has allowed the development of a transition plan to be underway for some time.”

Gordon came to Discovery Museum in 2009, a time when the institution’s future was uncertain. In the following years he restored the Museum to financial and operational health while establishing a sustainable and inspired vision for its future. During his tenure, operating income tripled, total assets grew from $1.7M to $11.7M, and the Museum will have served more than 2.5M kids and families between 2009 and the end of 2023, more than half the total number served in its 41-year history.

“The natural creativity and curiosity in every kid is a platform from which they can grow and learn about the wonders of the world around them and their place in it—and we hope to help equip them to take an inspired, active, and fulfilling role in their worlds,” said Gordon. “The opportunity to support and stoke that in kids, and the joy of seeing endless delight on so many faces, has been an honor that fills me with gratitude for the incredibly dedicated colleagues, determined and visionary Board, and generous and supportive community that truly makes it all possible. I am very grateful for my time here and the impact we have had together.”

Committed to a belief that children are innately creative, capable learners that benefit from open-ended play and STEM exploration from an early age, Gordon set out to make the Museum a welcoming and inspiring place for all children, regardless of physical ability, economic circumstances, or learning style. In 2010, the Museum launched Open Door Connections, a series of free access initiatives for families of children on the autism spectrum or with hearing or vision loss, along with expanded free or reduced admission opportunities for all visitors. Those programs have continued to grow and now more than a quarter of the Museum’s annual audience visits for free or nearly free.

Faced with aged and crowded facilities, Gordon’s dedication to accessibility also guided a physical campus overhaul. In 2013, Discovery Museum initiated its first capital campaign in nearly 30 years, ultimately raising $8.8 million to fully fund its plans. 2016 marked the opening of Discovery Woods, a uniquely accessible nature playscape and award-winning 550sf accessible treehouse, supporting Gordon’s goal of encouraging kids and families to play outside, engage with the natural world, and ultimately, become its caretakers. Then, in March 2018, the Museum opened its new building, with every space, exhibit, and feature rooted in Universal Design principles to be accessible to and enjoyed by the widest range of people.

Gordon has also prioritized bringing hands-on STEM experiences to kids in their school classrooms. Discovery Museum’s in-school STEM workshops program for PreK through 8th grade students, called Traveling Science Workshops, has grown significantly over the past decade. In 2022, the program served more than 45,600 students in more than 2,350 classrooms throughout the state.

When the pandemic forced Massachusetts businesses to close in early 2020, a groundswell of community support from donors whose confidence in Gordon’s leadership and the Museum’s ability to deliver on its promises brightened the Museum’s outlook. Supported by budget cuts, prudent financial management, government COVID-relief measures, and a cash reserve that had been carefully built over several years, Discovery Museum was able to re-open its doors, with its staff intact, after only a four-month closure—before most other children’s museums in the country. Gordon led with a message that the Museum’s greatest asset was the trust of its audience and made moments of joy at Discovery Museum possible for hundreds of families in an otherwise difficult time.

Key strategic initiatives set by Gordon prior to the pandemic continued to progress throughout it, including the Museum’s 5-year Sustainability Plan toward carbon neutrality. In summer 2022, Discovery Museum completed its conversion to 100% on-site generated electricity and became one of the largest non-profit community solar providers in Massachusetts, with five regional nonprofits now operating on discounted clean energy thanks to Gordon’s vision to produce more energy than the Museum needs. Gordon also instituted an industry-first carbon offset program to mitigate travel by Museum visitors and staff, now being used as a national model. Under his leadership, the Museum also instituted a comprehensive Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) Framework to guide staff to work to ensure equitable access to its experiences and equitable representation of its communities.

Under Gordon’s leadership, Discovery Museum’s impact has been recognized by the industry and beyond: two Association of Children’s Museums Promising Practice Awards, in 2010 and 2014; a John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts 2018 Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD®) Community Asset Award; the 2017 Massachusetts Commonwealth Award (in the Access category); nine federal Institute of Museum and Library Services grants; and industry recognitions for the Museum’s leadership staff. Discovery Museum also regularly won local readers’ choice awards, including Boston magazine's Best of Boston® 2018.

Prior to joining Discovery Museum in 2009, Gordon served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Boston Children’s Museum, where he worked for 14 years, and as Budget Director for the City of Boston prior to that. Neil served as President of the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) from 2008-2010 and was Treasurer of the New England Museum Association (NEMA) from 2004-2008. Neil was awarded a NEMA Excellence Award in 2018.

2022 saw Discovery Museum serve more than 200,000 people—including 156,000 visitors to the Museum and more than 45,000 students through school programs—for the first time since 2019. Gordon will continue in his role leading the Museum for the remainder of 2023, with a focus on continued rebuilding from the pandemic, supporting staff efforts to implement the Museum’s 5-year Sustainability Plan and DEAI Framework, and continued work to strengthen and expand the Museum’s impact on unreached and underserved audiences.


About Discovery Museum

Discovery Museum is a hands-on museum that blends science, nature, and play, inspiring families to explore and learn together. The museum and its Discovery Woods accessible outdoor nature playscape and 550sf treehouse blend the best of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) learning on a beautiful 4.5-acre campus abutting 180 acres of conservation land in Acton, MA, about 20 miles west of Boston. Originally founded in 1982 and expanded to two museums in 1987, the museum reopened in a single, 16,000sf accessible building after a complete renovation and expansion in early 2018. Hands-on, open-ended exhibits developed by professional educators inspire curiosity and exploration, providing a fun and engaging experience for children and adults to discover their world together. Serving families and schools from towns throughout the region, the Museum is devoted to informal education that enhances classroom learning. Discovery Museum is committed to accessibility and is a proud recipient of the 2017 Massachusetts Commonwealth Award, the only winner in the Access category, and a 2018 LEAD® Community Asset Award from The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Discovery Museum is a community-supported non-profit organization. Discovery Museum programming is supported in part by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.